Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Is State History Being Erased?

I saw an article the other day from Teacher Magazine online via the Associated Press called Arkansas Historians Upset Over Curriculum. It caused me concern. Even though state law requires the teaching of state history, Arkansas educrats have proposed a new framework for teaching history that eradicates a major chunk of curriculum.

The article states:

Tom Dillard, president of the Arkansas History Education Coalition, suggested Saturday that the new guidelines for social studies, approved by the state Education Board this year, violate a 1997 state law on teaching Arkansas history and effectively reverse the group's effort of at least the last 20 years to incorporate the subject into school curricula.

The [state] board [of education] …[wishes to] combine social studies and Arkansas history into one subject for kindergartners through sixth graders and [wants to require] the teaching of world history in seventh and eight grades, typically when Arkansas history is taught.

Dillard noted that the 10-year-old state law, adopted he said after the state Education Department failed to follow through on a promise to beef up Arkansas history instruction in the schools, requires that schools teach a unit of Arkansas history as a social studies subject at each elementary grade "with greater emphasis at the fourth and fifth grade levels."

In addition, he said, the schools must teach a full semester of Arkansas history to students between the seventh and 12th grades.

A one year moratorium has been set that will keep the framework from being implemented, while the educrats and Arkansas historians fight this out. It got me to thinking, however, if educrats can attempt to do this in Arkansas, they can try to do it in my own home state of Georgia. I hope not, but since we already see a watering down of history in the schools due to testing concerns over English/Language Arts and Math, I can’t help but wonder what’s next.

In a society where we have many transient students would state history matter to them? Would any of the students benefit from it? Is the teaching of state history wasted time?

I think not as long as teachers are competent in their subject matter and capable of knowing their own weak areas in the content, so they can beef up their knowledge. State history is American history. The story is simply told from the view point of the state where the students live. It should not only be told from a textbook, but rather from the resources of the state itself. Students should be taking numerous fieldtrips during their state history course to see the wonderful historic sites their own state has to offer, and lessons should be design in such a way to allow students to discover much of the content themselves.

The goals of teaching state history are and should be no different from teaching a broader American History course. Students should acquire skills, knowledge, and values necessary to make decisions as informed decisions in a culturally diverse democratic nation and interdependent world, or as the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) states students should acquire civic competance.

But why state history? Can’t they get that from a regular American History course?

In an article published in the OAH Magazine of History titled Teaching State History: Anacronism or Opportunity, Rhoda R.Gilman proposes that state history is a natural place for demonstrating the interplay between the individual and the universal. To leave out state history is to leave the student in a vacuum where no recognition is made to the local area and its contribution to the American story. State history is the perfect vehicle to allow students to see how an area is directly involved with changes over time.

Any move to waterdown or delete the teaching of state history attacks state identity. During his farewell address in 1989 President Ronald Reagan had the teaching of history on his mind. He said the country had been failing to adequately teach children the American story and what it represents in the history of the world. “We’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion, but what’s important. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately in an erosion of the American spirit.”

State history is part of that American memory, and it should not be eradicated or left to those who are less informed to merely weave into other curricular areas. By the time students reach middle school teaching state history should not be something done as an "Oh, by the way", or as a "tack on" activity. Older students are capable of seeing far more than most think, and are able to keep up with a large cast of characters and various viewpoints. It is the perfect time to teach the American story from the state’s viewpoint. It is simply one more layer of schema for children as they progress towards their high school years.


The Tour Marm said...

Students should be taking numerous fieldtrips during their state history course to see the wonderful historic sites their own state has to offer, and lessons should be designed in such a way to allow students to discover much of the content themselves.

Naturally, I agree! it's what I do!

US history is a broad view and often neglects the individuals and events that contributed greatly to this nation. State history brings these people, events, and places into the forefront, puts them into context, and contributes to pride of place.

I've learned so much from traveling through this nation and have come to realize that so-called 'boring states', from my Virginia or New York perspective, i.e. Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska are rich in history. I have endeavored to learn as much as I can from the locals.

A friend of mine moved her family to Oregon a few years ago, and I asked their daughter to tell me about some places of historic interest in the area. She shrugged her shoulders and said there weren't any. They lived ten miles from Fort Clapsop! Additionally, she didn't know about the native population or early European exploration. She was a good student and knew lots about the Revolution and Civil War, but nothing about her own back yard!

I asked her if she had studied state history in the three years she had been in Oregon (5th-7th grade). "Not much."

Actually I was disappointed with my friends for not having taken her there, but I would have also expected it would have been a school fieldtrip!

Point taken, EHT

But I should also inform you that many schools, for liability and other reasons, have cut out fieldtrips.

Mores the pity.

Dr Pezz said...

I just read an editorial in a newspaper, and I forget which one right now, stating that social studies has been the number one content area to sacrifice time in the new testing era. What a travesty! Especially in today's global age, students need the unique perspective of the social studies.

Interestingly enough, our state test (Washington State) primarily uses articles and selections taken from what would be considered social studies, yet those are the very subjects cut in favor of more "reading and writing" practice. It's horrible.

EHT said...

Thanks for commenting Tour Marm and Dr. Pezz. In my district the rules and procedures for getting a field trip approved has gotten to be so convoluted that we simply throw our hands up in the air. We often don't hear about the cut-off deadlines until they have passed. Gas prices have also been a concern as well as a little sentence on our permission slip forms that state if a parent does not pay the ticket price or fee for the student, the student cannot be denied an opportunity to go. Even our most affluent parents now balk at paying. I cancelled two field trips last year simply because we didn't have enough money to pay to go.

We already know students are graduating without enough basic knowledge in social studies and science. It simply blows my mind that the powers that be think the kids will "get it" by reading a selection in a basal reader. It also blows my mind that the powers that be think I'm comfortable enough to check off students have mastered the American Revolution standards, or whatever we are doing at the moment, simply because we read a couple of biographies and a battle guide. It makes me sick to my stomach.

The Tour Marm said...

Many of my social studies and history teachers use the field trip (student tour) to illustrate or reinforce concepts they have studied as well as introduce areas they will not be able to get to during the school year. They get to 'sneak in' several reading materials etc. that are not 'sanctioned' by the school district during normal class time. I'm always asked to provide materials to be used during the trip and added to their journals.

The benefits from these trips is incalculable and have 'turned around' many at-risk (academically) students. My story about Christine meeting 'Thomas Jefferson' is a case in point.

In fact, three of my schools now travel in the autumn instead of at the end of the year; they say that the comprehension and grades have risen as a direct result of having visited these sites.

Students need to have something tangible to relate to.

The schools I work with all have fundraising in place and/or parent booster clubs. Those parents who will be enrolling their children in the respective schools already know there will be an eighth grade field trip that will cost approximately $2000. (!) and start to plan for it one to three years in advance.

I'm sorry that at your level you've had problems with the district and parents. I imagine that you might be talking about daytrips. Have you tried to get parents involved in a fundraising process?

EHT said...

The field is already full with several fundraisers by the school proper and the PTO....no PTA...only PTO which in my county means the principal controls what happens to the money. Parents are basically yes-men in my neck of the woods. Money raised is spent on playground equipment and drill and kill computer programs for "the test".:)

The Tour Marm said...

The school's priorities seem to be more cosmetic.

Just curious, where did you want to take your students?

EHT said...

Simple field trips like the Atlanta History Center, the aquarium, or the Cyclorama...nothing major.

The Tour Marm said...

Well, yes, they are.

I would have thought these to be rather simple to achieve and the hands-on programs offered at these sites are very good. Doesn't anyone but you realize that this is done for the benefit of the students?

The Cyclorama, in particular, is a world reknown sight.

I'm sorry you're running into these walls. I'm sorrier for the kids.